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Yeltsin Signs Law Expanding Adoptions by Foreigners

March 16, 1995|BETH KNOBEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOSCOW — After vetoing sharp restrictions on adoptions by foreigners, President Boris N. Yeltsin has signed a law, published Wednesday, that will make more Russian children eligible for such adoptions and allow intermediaries to assist would-be parents.

"Of course, we're ashamed that some children have to be taken from their homeland," said Tamara I. Leta, the parliamentary deputy who drafted the law. "But we want our children to have good homes."

The law takes nationalist sentiment into account by giving priority to Russians who wish to adopt. But it allows any Russian child to be offered to foreigners if suitable Russian parents are not found by a deadline of up to eight months.

Previously, adoption by foreigners was allowed only when it was deemed to be in the medical interest of an unhealthy child.

The new law would combat the widely reported practice of baby selling by allowing only licensed, nonprofit agencies to assist in adoptions. Anyone convicted of trafficking in children could go to prison for up to 15 years.

The law vetoed by Yeltsin in December would have made it almost impossible for a foreigner to adopt a Russian child; it would have banned adoption agencies and intermediaries entirely.

Americans and most other foreigners wishing to adopt Russian children are dependent on agents who collect information from orphanages, arrange travel and help steer prospective parents through the country's bureaucracy.

The new law requires adopting parents to come to Russia to choose the child and go through certain formalities. But intermediaries can help with other parts of the process, such as gathering documents.

American adoption professionals expressed cautious optimism about the new statute.

"The law enables international adoption. There's no prohibition," said Linda Perilstein, executive director of the Cradle of Hope adoption center in Washington, which has handled more than 375 Russian adoptions. "It's really the first time there's been an official law on the books (in Russia) to do this."

The old adoption law dated to 1969, when Soviet children needing adoption were locked behind the Iron Curtain.

The new statute will discourage the practice of falsifying documents to get healthy children out of Russia, according to Hemlata Momaya, executive director of the Bal Jagat-Children's World agency in Chatsworth.

The law, signed by Yeltsin on March 7, takes effect immediately, now that it has been officially published. But experts said many questions about its implementation remain. "We just don't yet know how this will work," said Larisa Mason, director of the International Assistance Group, an agency in Pittsburgh that has processed about 200 Russian adoptions.

She said it is unclear whether adoptions now under way are subject to the old or new statutes, and whether new adoptions will be halted while Russia implements the new law.

One potential stumbling block is the law's provision that Russia set up a centralized registry of the estimated 400,000 children eligible for adoption. Experts, noting that many Russian organizations still keep their records in old-style ledgers rather than on computers, said the transition to a central registry might cause lengthy delays.

The U.S. Embassy granted visas to 2,028 adopted Russian children in 1994 and is handling them at about the same rate this year. It urged would-be adoptive parents to contact their agency or the State Department hot line, (202) 736-7000, for updates on the new Russian law.

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